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Congresswoman accuses Israel of racism for not offering vaccines to the Palestinian territories

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, accused Israel of being “racist” for not offering to distribute coronavirus vaccines to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza in an interview with Democracy Now published on Tuesday.

“I think it’s really important to understand Israel is a racist state and that they would deny Palestinians, like my grandmother, access to a vaccine, that they don’t believe that she’s an equal human being that deserves to live, deserves to be able to be protected by this global pandemic,” Tlaib said. “And it’s really hard to watch as this apartheid state continues to deny their own neighbors, the people that breathe the same air they breathe, that live in the same communities.”

Israel’s health ministry has agreed to vaccinate more than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails this week following calls from international and human rights groups, Palestinian and Israeli officials — including President Reuven Rivlin — and a recommendation by Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, despite objection from Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is in charge of such facilities. The government has also included Palestinian citizens living in Israel and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, as well as 100 medical workers in the West Bank in its vaccination drive.

But as Israel has ramped up its vaccine distribution, closing in on 25% of the population who have received the first shot, it has not delivered any vaccines for the general Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza. “The normal policy of every country is to vaccinate its own citizens. That’s what they pay taxes for,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said last week. Dr. Ahmad Majdalani, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the reason the Palestinians have not asked Israel for vaccines is that the Pfizer vaccine requires storage at ultra-low temperatures and they don’t have the infrastructure to manage it properly.

Earlier this month, a group of 200 rabbis called on Israel to voluntarily distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian population on a humanitarian basis.

But Tlaib maintained that Israel “has no intention” of helping the Palestinians recover from the coronavirus pandemic because the U.S. is “enabling” them to do so. “They have the power to distribute that vaccine to the Palestinian people, their own neighbors, again, feet away from where they live, many of which, again, could expose them and their family and it doesn’t,” she said. “If anything, it just reiterates what the Palestinian people and even human rights groups have been telling us, is that this is an apartheid state.”

Jacob Kornbluh is the Forward’s senior political reporter. Follow him on Twitter @jacobkornbluh or email kornbluh@forward.com.

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